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A new production process of aircraft parts reduces the operational time lost in repairs and means that other jets do not have to be cannibalized for parts. 

Swedish aerospace and defense company Saab has trialed battle damage repair of its Gripen combat aircraft using 3D-printed parts. As noted by the company, the purpose of the trial was to test how additive manufacturing could be used in battlefield damage repair.

A 3D-printed panel hatch was created and fitted to a Gripen D testbed, with a 30-minute test then flown over Saab’s Linköping facility in southern Sweden. While 3D-printed parts have been flown internally, and included in the Gripen E, this test marked the first flight of an external section of the aircraft.

“A Gripen was fitted with a hatch that had been 3D printed using additive manufacturing, using a nylon polymer called PA2200. The spare part passed the test with flying colors,” Saab said in a statement. As there was no 3D computer model of the hatch, the original was first removed from the aircraft and scanned.

“This work is a step towards 3D-printed spares being used for rapid repairs to fighter aircraft that have sustained damage while deployed on remote operations, thereby gaining a vital time-saving advantage,” the company said.

The next step is to look at alternative materials to PA2200, ones that are also flexible and can withstand the cold at high altitudes. The team will also progress a container solution so that printing equipment can be taken on deployments, according to defence-blog.com.